Enjoying the sound of silents: Live music accompanies old films

Nov 5, 2021

They played silent films at Mattapoisett Museum Friday, Nov. 5, but the room was hardly quiet.

Musicians Jeff Angeley, his son Silas Angeley and daughter Penelope Angeley performed on a variety of instruments, including bass, harmonica and saxophone, to create their own lively soundtrack to mirror the on-screen action.

The combined efforts of classic silent film star Harold Lloyd wrangling a live turkey on a streetcar and related musical backdrops, including a bit of “Hit the Road Jack’’ when Lloyd was thrown from the vehicle, created another sound: Laughter.

Portions of “Hot Water,’’ a 1924 silent film more commonly known as “Harold Lloyd versus the Turkey,’’ were screened to reflect the autumn theme of the evening. Silent shorts were presented with fall holiday themes. 

This was the first silent film night and town resident Kathy McCarthy was intrigued.

“The idea of a silent movie with music behind it sounded like a hoot,’’ said Kathy McCarthy. 

Angeley considers the instruments he and his fellow musician perform to be film characters themselves. “We build off the action as it happens,’’ he said. The music “moves with the characters.’’ 

The musical movie performance was part of the museum’s effort to expand its offerings. “We’re always looking for different things to do here,’’ board member Jessica DeCicco-Carey said. 

Jeff Angeley had never presented his silent movie musical at the museum before, but he is no stranger to the museum, or creative performances. For years, he operated out of Hatch Street Studios in New Bedford, where he hosted open mic nights, fiddling sessions and the silent movies set to music.

As it did for so many people, the pandemic forced him to make major changes. He was unable to keep his studio space.

When DeCicco-Carey, whose daughter took fiddle lessons from Angeley, heard about his situation, she decided his talents would work well at the museum. Since then, Angeley has hosted his Old Time Fiddle Sessions and radically-inclusive open mic nights regularly at the museum. 

Angeley said he has taught students to perform along silent movies. “They learn to compose and improvise,’’ he said. 

​​As they hone those skills, they may learn another lesson, he said. “It’s really fun,’’ he said.